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February 2014

Syria’s war must end

By Stephen Hawking, Published: February 14

Stephen Hawking is the author of “A Brief History of Time” and a former professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that the universe had existed forever. The reason humanity was not more developed, he believed, was that floods or other natural disasters repeatedly set civilization back to the beginning.

Today, humans are developing ever faster. Our knowledge is growing exponentially and with it, our technology. But humans still have the instincts, and in particular the aggressive impulses, that we had in caveman days. Aggression has had definite advantages for survival, but when modern technology meets ancient aggression the entire human race and much of the rest of life on Earth is at risk.

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Today in Syria we see modern technology in the form of bombs, chemicals and other weapons being used to further so-called intelligent political ends.But it does not feel intelligent to watch as more than 100,000 people are killed or while children are targeted. It feels downright stupid, and worse, to prevent humanitarian supplies from reaching clinics where, as Save the Children will document in a forthcoming report, children are having limbs amputated for lack of basic facilities and newborn babies are dying in incubators for lack of power.

What’s happening in Syria is an abomination, one that the world is watching coldly from a distance. Where is our emotional intelligence, our sense of collective justice?

When I discuss intelligent life in the universe, I take this to include the human race, even though much of its behavior throughout history appears not to have been calculated to aid the survival of the species. And while it is not clear that, unlike aggression, intelligence has any long-term survival value, our very human brand of intelligence denotes an ability to reason and plan for not only our own but also our collective futures.

We must work together to end this war and to protect the children of Syria. The international community has watched from the sidelines for three years as this conflict rages, engulfing all hope. As a father and grandfather, I watch the suffering of Syria’s children and must now say: No more.

I often wonder what we must look like to other beings watching from deep space. As we look out at the universe, we are looking back in time, because light leaving distant objects reaches us much, much later. What does the light emitting from Earth today show? When people see our past, will we be proud of what they are shown — how we, as brothers, treat each other? How we allow our brothers to treat our children?

We now know that Aristotle was wrong: The universe has not existed forever. It began about 14 billion years ago. But he was right that great disasters represent major steps backward for civilization. The war in Syria may not represent the end of humanity, but every injustice committed is a chip in the facade of what holds us together. The universal principle of justice may not be rooted in physics but it is no less fundamental to our existence. For without it, before long, human beings will surely cease to exist.

One Day, it Will be an Alawite Who Finally Kills Assad

In the runup to the Geneva 2 peace talks, there was widespread speculation that the opposition team at the negotiations lacked the leverage and influence among rebel brigades on the ground in Syria, to make any agreement meaningful (a point that became moot as the talks concluded with no agreements whatsoever having been reached).

Assad is trapped by the limitations imposed by his own rhetoric. It cant end well for him.

Assad is trapped by the limitations imposed by his own rhetoric. It cant end well for him.

And yet recent events on the ground in Homs, where a UN and Red Crescent aid convoy to besieged rebel areas was shelled and shot up by regime shabihas in the city, and the murder of the British doctor Abbas Khan, just mere hours before his scheduled release from the regime jails, clearly indicate that far from being a president in firm control of his intelligence services and militiamen, Bashar Assad is a man who finds himself trapped by a narrative of his own making.

By failing to defeat an opposition he has consistently painted as posing an existential threat to his own Alawite constituency, a narrative that has also made impossible even minor confidence building measures such as permitting aid to the besieged rebel areas, and the release of high profile prisoners such as Dr Khan, measures which could have been built on to eventually ensure a political arrangement to end the conflict, Assad has trapped himself in a course of action that can only end in one way; his death at the hands of his fellow Alawites.

That there should be bitter opposition to even such minor compromises among the regime’s supporters will come as no surprise to anyone closely following events in Syria. In June 2013, when the Syrian army, backed by units from the Lebanese terrorist organization Hizbollah invaded my home town of Telkelakh, the army and mukhabarat went door to door, ransacking homes and arresting people pretty much at random. A relative of mine in the town at the time, whose son had for years enjoyed close ties to very senior regime officials, thought that his family’s well known relations with the regime would protect him.

When regime shabihas burst into his home, this relative immediately held up a picture of his son shaking hands with none other than El Presidente, the Eye Doctor himself. “Look, look!” he said, “my son with el-doktor Bashar”.

The shabihas took one look at the picture, and broke my relative’s jaw. “Kess emak ‘ala em el doktor Bashar!”

Ouch. Being as close to an honest opinion poll as you are going to get in Assadstanian Syria, that pretty summed up much of the regime rank and file’s feelings towards Assad, an attitude I found confirmed time and again while living in Tartous. Assad has created a narrative where the only acceptable outcome from his constituency’s point of view is a total and crushing defeat of the “takfiri” opposition, a result Assad has found it utterly impossible to deliver on. If you have painted your enemy as nihilistic savages, hell bent on the subjugation of the entire country under an “Islamist emirate”, then the only way the Alawite communities in Homs, Damascus and the coast will be preserved is by the complete and total annihilation of these “takfiris” and their supporters.

What then, ya doktor, are you doing giving up the country’s chemical weapons? The shabihas, who have died in their tens of thousands over the course of the conflict, don’t want to see deals made giving up sarin gas in exchange for the regime’s survival. They want to see that sarin unleashed in massive quantities on rebel areas still holding out in Homs and Damascus.

The mukhabarat, who have no illusions as to what awaits them should the regime fall, do not want to see high profile prisoners such as Dr Khan released just to make Assad look good. Dr Khan’s savage and brutal murder a mere hours before his scheduled release was as much an F-U to Assad as it was an act of revenge against the British. Galloway? Who is George Galloway? If it is Galloway’s dream to become the world’s first Scottish Ayatollah, the mukhabarat, who have also died in their thousands during the war, apparently don’t feel obliged to give up anything to grant him any PR points.

And ya doktor, you have spent months convincing the Alawites of Zahra in Homs that are they besieged on all sides by savage “takfiris” and their NATO-Wahabi-Salafi-Zionist backers. Why then are you allowing aid convoys into their besieged areas? The only surprise of the day wasn’t that the UN and Red Crescent convoy came under attack; it’s that anyone in their right mind actually thought that such a deal could be carried off without a bitter and immediate backlash from the shabihas in Homs.

In Tartous, there was an undeniable air of exasperation and impatience with Assad. On numerous occasions, I heard pining for the perceived wisdom and experience of the father Hafiz, whom it was felt would never have allowed things to reach the stage they did. The regime’s supporters want someone to execute the war efficiently and win it decisively, something Bashar has utterly failed to do despite massive foreign backing from Hizbollah, Iran and Russia.

As the war grinds on, there is an increasing sense of anger towards a man many see as being out of his depths. Whereas Winston Churchill would be out and about visiting parts of the UK hit by Germany bombing raids, Bashar’s continued isolation and seclusion from the world outside of Damascus, is as much about protecting him from his own Alawites as it is from attempts on his life by the opposition.

Of course the Geneva talks failed! Waleed Muallem and Buthaina Shaaban et al would have been lynched by the regime’s own supporters among the delegation if they had uttered so much as a compromising word, let alone discussed any deal to transition to shared power. One does not share power with “takfiris”. In the absence of a clear and decisive military victory by one side over the other, the only way to end the war in Syria would have been a political settlement. Both are outcomes Bashar Assad cannot possibly deliver on. Trapped by his own rhetoric, he is doomed to continue pursuing a course of action which has no hope of ending in a triumph for the regime.

As Alawites continue to die in their thousands, expended by a president who regards them as expendable as rounds of ammunition or liters of tank fuel, as increasingly barbaric barrel bombings and starvation tactics fail to bring the rest of the country under heel once again, Assad’s position will become increasingly untenable among his own constituency.

Failing to deliver on a military victory, and unable to take any steps towards a political settlement, his ability to exert control over elements within his own regime will continue to be undermined. Today, he can’t even deliver a prisoner alive and well to a friendly pro-Iranian British MP, or ensure the safety of a UN aid convoy. In the not too distant future, his inability to influence events will become clearer and more apparent, until his very life will be in danger from those closest to him, looking to replace him with someone who in their view can execute the war more efficiently, and not pussyfoot about unleashing every single drop of chemicals in the regime’s arsenal. The regime’s supporters haven’t died in such numbers only to share power with perceived “takfiris”. “Kess em el doktor Bashar” indeed.

Assad today is a liability, to both his own constituents, the country in opposition to him, and to the region as a whole. His room for political maneuver is almost non-existent, his ability to deliver a military victory completely impossible. Unable to bring the war to a conclusion, incapable of orchestrating a decisive victory in any shape, way or form, the most extreme elements among the regime will dispose of him. Assad’s own rhetoric has made his demise at the hands of his own Alawites inevitable.


Israeli government wants to unleash war against BDS backers

February 12th, 2014

Wel­come to the smell of fu­til­ity. The last months have seen an avalanche of Zion­ists, lib­eral Zion­ists, colum­nists and fear-mon­gers claim­ing that boy­cotts against Is­rael are dan­ger­ous, yet of­fer­ing noth­ing to end the oc­cu­pa­tion.

The lat­est, via Haaretz, is the Ne­tanyahu gov­ern­ment po­ten­tially spend­ing huge dol­lars on at­tack­ing BDS back­ers. There’s one small prob­lem (as usual): it’s about spin and does noth­ing to end daily vi­o­lence against Pales­tini­ans:

Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu con­vened a meet­ing Sun­day evening to dis­cuss how to cope with the grow­ing threat of the eco­nomic boy­cott on Is­rael in light of con­tin­ued oc­cu­pa­tion and set­tle­ment con­struc­tion in the West Bank.

Se­nior Is­raeli of­fi­cials said prior to the meet­ing that the plan was to try to de­cide on a strat­egy and de­ter­mine whether to launch an ag­gres­sive pub­lic cam­paign or op­er­ate through qui­eter, diplo­matic chan­nels.

The dis­cus­sion had been sched­uled to take place last week, but can­celed at the last minute due to the po­lit­i­cal row be­tween Ne­tanyahu and Econ­omy Min­is­ter Naf­tali Ben­nett. Sun­day’s meet­ing will take place amid a dif­fer­ent con­fron
tation – this time be­tween Ben­nett and For­eign Min­is­ter Avig­dor Lieber­man.

The pre­vi­ous dis­cus­sion was sup­posed to in­clude a broad forum of min­is­ters. The Sci­ence Min­istry asked to sep­a­rate the dis­cus­sion on the eco­nomic boy­cott threat from a dis­cus­sion on the aca­d­e­mic boy­cott threat, since there is al­ready a strat­egy for the lat­ter, while the for­mer has yet to be dealt with.

The dis­cus­sion, sched­uled to begin at 5:30 P.M., will only in­clude Lieber­man, Ben­nett and Strate­gic Af­fairs Min­is­ter Yuval Steinitz, who is ex­pected to pre­sent a plan his min­istry has been work­ing on.

Ac­cord­ing to plan, Is­rael should be proac­tive in its op­po­si­tion to or­ga­ni­za­tions who pro­mote boy­cotts against Is­rael. The plan pro­poses to in­vest sub­stan­tial re­sources in or­ga­niz­ing a pub­lic cam­paign.

Min­is­ter Steinitz is de­mand­ing a bud­get of 100 mil­lion shekels for im­ple­men­ta­tion of the plan, which would in­clude PR ma­te­ri­als and ag­gres­sive legal and media cam­paigns against pro-boy­cott or­ga­ni­za­tions.

The For­eign Min­istry has a dif­fer­ent ap­proach. Diplo­mats think the non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions push­ing for a wide-rang­ing boy­cott against Is­rael and not strictly against the set­tle­ments are rel­a­tively mar­ginal and that a pub­lic cam­paign against them will only play into their hands, bol­ster­ing them.

The For­eign Min­istry thinks the pub­lic re­sponse to
or­ga­ni­za­tions pro­mot­ing a boy­cott against Is­rael should be con­stricted. It wants to focus on less pub­lic diplo­matic ac­tiv­ity to com­bat such ini­tia­tives and be­lieves ad­vanc­ing the peace process with the Pales­tini­ans will stave off a large por­tion of the boy­cott threats.

One of the is­sues to be dis­cussed at the meet­ing is whether to file legal suits in Eu­ro­pean and North Amer­i­can courts against or­ga­ni­za­tions that are pro­po­nents of the boy­cott di­vest­ment and sanc­tions (BDS) move­ment. Min­is­ters will also con­sider whether to take legal ac­tion against fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions that boy­cott set­tle­ments, or boy­cott Is­raeli com­pa­nies that are some­how op­er­at­ing in or con­nected to the set­tle­ments.

An­other con­sid­er­a­tion is whether to ac­ti­vate the pro-Is­rael lobby in the U.S., specif­i­cally AIPAC, in order to pro­mote leg­is­la­tion in Con­gress against the eco­nomic boy­cott of Is­rael, akin to the leg­is­la­tion that was passed in the 1970′s against the Arab boy­cott.

One of the is­sues that will be raised dur­ing the dis­cus­sion is that there is a lack of knowl­edge and in­ef­fi­cient track­ing by Is­raeli in­tel­li­gence of pro-BDS or­ga­ni­za­tions.

The Strate­gic Af­fairs Min­istry has pro­vided the Is­rael De­fense Forces’ in­tel­li­gence de­part­ment a bud­get of sev­eral mil­lion shekels for the pur­pose of bol­ster­ing mil­i­tary sur­veil­lance of such or­ga­ni­za­tions. How­ever, the need for the prime min­is­ter to in­struct the Shin Bet Se­cu­rity Ser­vice and the Mossad on the ef­forts is likely to come up.


The First World War


Huun-Huur-Tu – Live

Huun-Huur-Tu (Tuvan: Хүн Хүртү Khün Khürtü, Russian: Хуун-Хуур-Ту) is a music group from Tuva, a Russian Federation republic situated on the Mongolian border.

The most distinctive characteristic of Huun Huur Tu’s music is throat singing, in which the singers sing both the note (drone) and the drone’s overtone(s), thus producing two or three notes simultaneously. The overtone may sound like a flute, whistle or bird, but is actually solely a product of the human voice.

The group primarily uses native Tuvan instruments such as the igil, khomus (Tuvan jaw harp), doshpuluur, and dünggür (shaman drum). However, in recent years, the group has begun to selectively incorporate western instruments, such as the guitar. While the thrust of Huun Huur Tu’s music is fundamentally indigenous Tuvan folk music, they also experiment with incorporating not only Western instruments, but electronic music as well.



The lady from Damascus

A   tribute to the Syrian Revolution.
Words by Jean- Pierre Filiu
Music Catherine Vincent
Recorded and shoot in Marseille (France) in 2013

Zeitouna Kids: In their Own Words

Syrian Refugees at Al-Salam school in Reyhanli, Turkey.

Affluenza Defense Lands Wealthy Teen in Rehab After He Kills 4 People in Drunk Driving Accident


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